It is getting more challenging to engage great intern talent, so it is important for companies to put their best feet forward during the entire process. Although an employer is the one who technically interviews (and hires) the student for their internship, savvy young learners will also be examining the organization during the duration of their assignment. “Could this really be my home after graduation for years to come?” an intern continually wonders.
Delivering on what matters most to each individual in an internship program helps a company establish trust and execute the best possible internship experience, hopefully leading more interns to choose the organization as a full-time, long-term employer. Here are some things to keep in mind as you set about creating and running an internship program that works for both your organization and your interns:
1. Post Your Opportunities Early
This can’t be emphasized enough. Summer internship opportunities should really be posted the previous September. The most talented students get snapped up pretty quickly, and no one wants to lose out when a little bit of preplanning would have made all the difference. Posting early also allows your company’s announcement to be viewed by the largest pool of candidates before your competitors can get out of the gate with their own programs.
2. Go on Campus
Although online recruiting seems to be the easiest, most sensible way to select talent, student or otherwise, there is something very noteworthy and impressive about a company that gives interns the chance to meet important organizational leaders in the flesh on campus. Bringing a C-suite representative to engage with students in person sends a powerful message — especially to Ivy League students feverishly mapping out their futures — and shows the organization’s genuine commitment to its internship program.
3. Put a Robust Plan in Place
A lot of thought must go into creating an attractive program. The days of interns being content to file documents all summer long are over. Students want to learn beyond their daily tasks. They want mentors and activities that prepare them for life in the workforce. They would also like to receive opportunities that would normally be entrusted to employees, even if it means certain projects will require extra time because they’ve been handed over to interns.
4. Seek Out Success Stories
Find the employees, consultants, and part-time workers who started at your firm as interns. Chances are there will be one or two; if you’re lucky, there might even be more. Ask them what they liked about their programs. Find out if there is anything they would change, and learn what their pathways were from intern to insider. Then, use this feedback to inform the creation of an internship program that is truly sensitive to interns’ needs and goals.
5. Expose Interns to Senior Management — Even the CEO
The best and brightest usually dream big, so they’ll want a close-up view of what it’s like at the top. Get senior management involved with interns for outings, panel discussions, and meet-and-greets — and yes, that includes your CEO! Don’t worry: Your eager interns have probably memorized your top executives’ LinkedIn profiles, so they’ll be armed with plenty of smart, engaging questions!
6. Share Your Company’s Stance on Corporate Responsibility
This generation of students actively seeks to be informed about and involved with society and the world around them. They are invested in a variety of causes and want to know that your company cares about those same causes. Show them it does.
Arrange a special corporate social responsibility event, like a group volunteering effort. A gesture like that will speak volumes about what your company values. In fact, it may be the key event that makes some of your interns decide yours is the kind of organization they want to be part of as they enter the workforce.
7. Pay Attention to Your Interns
You might still occasionally hear a horror story or two about interns sitting forgotten in corners for months, pining for the the next semester to start so they can get out of there. Today’s students are looking to do much more with their time. They want experiential, effective learning — which you can only offer if you really get to know them.
Spend time with your interns. Learn what they’re looking for. Do they have certain career paths in mind? Are they going to graduate school? Are they looking to get hired right after college? How do they like interning for your company? Use the feedback you gather from these conversations to inform the paths of current and future interns at your company.
Talent can come through many channels, and recommendations and job boards will always be critical strategies for populating your office with the cream of the crop. However, your future employees are shining as we speak, in a different kind of environment — a classroom. Why not introduce your organization to them while they are young, ambitious, and idealistic? There might be no greater recruiting success story than to have an intern start as a student, find a home, and never want to leave.
Joan Burns is executive vice president of human resources, marketing, and communications and chief diversity officer at IDB Bank.